City pizza in my country kitchen

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I was raised in or near the city where a good pizza was available just about any time of the day or night.  When I moved to Bandera, I realized that my days of 24/7 pizzas had to come to an end.  I do admit that sometimes the late-night pizza commercials make me want to cry.   Real tears.  Really.

I tried the frozen pizza options and while sure – they worked for a while, there were still times (usually at 2 a.m.) where I really wished I had a hot, fresh pizza.

One day I was getting ready to pay $30 for a pizza that, while freshly made at our local pizzaria, just didn’t quite scratch that itch.  I decided it was “good and time” that I started to make my own pizza.  This process may seem to be a lot of work, but this recipe makes enough toppings for 2 pizzas at a good 12” each.   And let me tell y’all – 2 slices of this pizza will fill the hungriest person.  One pizza makes two very filling meals.

This is how you, too, can have fresh piping hot pizzas that will rival the best pies in town.

Ingredient lists:

Dough ingredients:

  • 3.5 to 4 cups of flour
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • 1 package of yeast (active, dry)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil set aside; extra for working dough and greasing the  bowl.
  • One pinch of sugar.

Pizza sauce ingredients:

  • Italian seasoning
  • Cheap parmesan cheese in a shaker
  • Garlic powder (not salt)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 1 pinch of brown sugar

Pizza toppings ideas:

  • One onion, sliced into thin slices.
  • 1/2 pound hamburger meat.
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage (we used mild)
  • Canadian bacon – rinds cut off, sliced or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Pepperoni slices
  • Italian seasoning
  • Garlic powder
  • Cheap parmesan cheese powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • Any veggies you like – such as red and green peppers, olives, fresh tomatoes chopped and patted dry with a paper towel, etc.
  • Cheeses:  mozzarella,  cheddar, feta.  For this pizza I used mozzarella and cheddar and Parmesan.

Here is a quick list of the dance steps, the order we’ll take to make the pizzas:

  • Proof yeast
  • Mix dough
  • Proof dough
  • Cook ingredients while dough is proofing, set aside
  • Form crust
  • Cover crust with sauce and toppings
  • Bake
  • Eat until you can eat no longer.
  • Stare at the pizza wistfully wishing you had more room.
  • Fall asleep on the couch.

Note:  the last three steps are VERY important; do not skip them.

Preparing the dough:

Proofing your yeast; always make sure your workers are ready to work!

Any time you are going to be making a yeast-type dough, you always want to proof your yeast.  What this means is that you are going to prove that your yeast is alive and working before you start the dough.  You do this by putting the yeast granules into warm water with a little food (in this case sugar) to activate them.

Measure out very warm but not hot water.  The temperature should be about 100 degrees.   You can test the heat by hand; the water should be much warmer than your skin, but not hot.

Word to the wise:  do not be like me and think you are so smart that you can use any amount of water unless you’re already experienced at dough-making.  When I was Miss Smarty Pants, my yeast did not work and then I thought “Um, how much water was that again?”

Use the pre-set amount of water just in case your yeast fail to work; that way when you dump your yeast concoction out, you know how much water you need to replace.

Feed your workers; yeast like warmth and a good meal.

Place a pinch of sugar into the 1/4 cup of water; the yeast organisms have been sleeping and they are hungry.

Empty the package of active dry yeast into the cup and wait about 5 minutes.  During this time the yeast pellets should dissolve; the yeast organisms awaken, eat, and create foam.  The foam may be just slight, but it should be there.  If no foam appears, your yeast might be expired in date or in life.  If so, just try another package in a new quarter cup of water.

Preparing your dough – the messy but fun part

In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of flour and the salt.  Add the olive oil and the rest of the water and stir well.  The dough should be gloppy (the official word for it, I am sure) and soft.  Once your yeast has proofed, add the yeast-water into the dough.  Add more flour very gradually until the dough is slightly stiff.

At this point your dough might still be sticky and wet; that is fine.  You are going to work more of the flour into it by kneading.

Work it, baby!

Flour a board lightly.  Dump your dough onto the board and get ready to get messy!  I love this part best of all.  I do know that you can use a dough hook and a machine for this part, but I really believe that you get the best feel of how dough is progressing by doing this hands-on!

Knead the pizza dough, gradually bringing in the flour that is left over from the ingredients.  The amount of flour that your dough accepts depends on the environment.  In the winter or low humidity, you will not be able to incorporate as much flour as you can in a humid and/or warm environment.

You can tell with your hands and fingers how much dough to use.  If the dough is sticky, add some sprinkles of flour to the board and on top of the dough and work it in.  You may think that your dough is fine, but press into it with your fingers and you will be able to tell if it is still a bit wet.

There is no need to fear the kneading process

Kneading used to terrify me.  “How am I going to do that – I’ve never seen anyone do it, I wasn’t raised doing this?”  However, I think you’ll be surprised how simple and comforting kneading can be.  Start with your ball of dough on your board.  With your palms down, place the balls of your palms into the bread.  Then just lean your weight into the bread and sort of smear it forwards.  If the bread feels sticky to your palms, sprinkle with a little flour as if you were powdering with sugar.

Turn your dough one-quarter turn to your right, fold the dough over itself, and repeat the palm-smear once or twice.  Feel the dough’s wetness and adjust with flour as needed.  Turn the dough one-quarter turn and smear.

How long do you need to knead?

Keep kneading and adding slight amounts of flour until you feel you have incorporated as much of the flour as you can and your dough is smooth and silky.  I try to knead the dough for the better part of 10 minutes.  If the dough is sticky, I continue to knead.  If the dough is silky before the 10 minutes is done, I can stop a couple of minutes early.  Roll the edges under your dough to make a pretty ball.

Tuck the dough in for a good rest

Oil the inside of a bowl, preferably one that you can see through.  I like using olive oil for pizza dough.  Go ahead and jump in and use your hands to spread the oil around the bowl leaving a tiny bit spare at the bottom.   Go ahead and keep your hands covered with that lovely oil and pick up your dough ball.  Gently rub the oil over the ball and place it smooth-side-down and spin it in the bowl a little to coat with oil.  Slide it back upright, smooth-side-up, to let the bottom get oiled.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free area.

Helpful hint:  placing a piece of tape on the side of the bowl to show how high the dough is at the beginning helps you keep track of how far it has risen.

Another helpful hint: do not try to add tape with oily hands.  I can tell you from experience that this does not work out well.

Turning on the oven light is often enough warmth for your dough.  Put your covered dough in the oven and leave it there for about 20 minutes or until it has doubled, about 40 minutes.  The dough will let you know when it is ready if you use the finger test.  To finger test your dough, put to finger tips into the dough then remove them.

If the dough springs back, it needs more time.  If the dents remain, you are ready to go.

While your dough is resting, prepare your toppings.

Preparing the toppings

Toppings; the meats:

I like to pre-cook all of my toppings.  Simply brown the Italian sausage, making sure to season it well with garlic powder, Italian seasonings, onion powder, whatever you like.  Do the same with hamburger.  Yesterday I used the oil from the Italian sausage crumbles and cooked my hamburger in it; it was divine!

Toppings; the veggies:

For my onions, I use thin slices and then add them to a pan that is hot and has a dash of olive oil in it.  I keep that pan at a medium-low heat and just let the onions sweat and soften in the olive oil.  Season with your herbs at that point before the onions are done.  You can either cook them to where they’re just slightly soft or go ahead and caramelize the onions.  I am convinced that caramelized onions make absolutely everything taste better.

For your veggies like peppers and tomatoes, I do like to toss them in a warm pan – perhaps with the onions – if they take a while to cook.  I also like to cook mushrooms first as they will release a lot of moisture which can make your pizza soggy.  Letting your veggies release their moisture in a pan helps to ensure that your pizza will not be too moist and messy.

I do not cook the pepperoni and other prepared meats such as salami, pre-cooked bacon, etc.  The very slight amount of oils and liquid that comes out of these meats only adds flavor, not sloppiness, to the pie.

Let your toppings cook while you are preparing the sauce.  When they are ready, place them in a paper-towel lined bowl to soak up extra oil.

Preparing the sauce

Empty your small can of tomato paste and of tomato sauce into a bowel.  Add 2 tablespoons of cheap powdered parmesan.  Add about 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning and a hefty pinch (or two) of garlic powder.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add one pinch of brown sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes.  Stir and give it a taste test.  Set aside for when you top the crust.

Preparing the crust

Take the dough out and put it back on your board.  Give the dough a couple of good reassuring pats to “punch down” the air.  I like to push the dough down to where it is about 3 inches tall.

Take a plate and use the plate as a cutter to divide the dough into two halves.  Form both halves into balls.  At this point, if you wish, you can lightly oil the outside of one dough, wrap in saran wrap, and put it in the freezer to use later; just thaw, shape, and bake with your toppings.

Oil a pizza pan if you are making a pan pizza.  Place the dough you are going to use and place it in the oiled pan.  Start in the middle and press the dough into a pizza crust shape from the inside outwards.  Use your fingers to lightly press the dough towards the outside, gently stretching the dough into a shape.  Rotate your dough as you go around.  Keeping your hands oiled with olive oil helps this step tremendously and gives the dough such a great flavor!

If the dough wants to spring back really hard – it is okay: let it rest a few minutes and try again.  Sometimes this allows the gluten to relax and the dough to shape more easily.

If you want a nice roll of dough around the outside, then leave a little ridge of dough on the outsides.  Alternately you can flatten the edges out.  You can control how thick or thin the dough will be.

Make one pizza; have one ready any time you have a craving

Remove half of the ingredients and place in little ziplock baggies.  Place all of those baggies into one bigger baggy when they are frozen; that way you will have a “pizza kit” ready with barely any work.  Just thaw your ingredients, shape the crust, top it, and bake!

Toppings, toppings, toppings!

Once you get the dough in the shape you want, rub oil over the entire crust gently – including the crust edges.  Season the entire dough – including the edges – with your Italian seasonings and a sprinkle of cheap parmesan.

Take your pizza sauce and place a blob of it into the center of your pizza.  Use your hands or a wooden spoon to paint the sauce outwards onto your pizza.  Again, sprinkle with the parmesan.

Sprinkle a very thin layer of mozzarella cheese over the sauce.  Add a little of your hamburger and sauce crumbles at this point; their flavor will infuse the sauce.  Sprinkle a little more mozzarella, a little more seasoning, and sprinkle with garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Add your pepperoni and Canadian bacon slices all over the pizza along with any veggies you choose.

Then sprinkle yet more parmesan, mozzarella, and then some cheddar cheese.  This pizza is not for sissies!

Make sure this last layer of cheese goes over the crust .  The cheese will melt onto the crust and just looks and tastes absolutely fabulous!

Baking your pie

Place the pizza in a 350 degree pre-heated oven.  The amount of time the pizza takes varies.  My pizza took about 30 minutes for the crust on the outside to puff, set, and turn a little golden and lovely.  The outside crust edges will tell you a lot about what it going on under the pizza.  Make sure all of your cheese is melted and lovely.  Remove the pizza and let set for 2-3 minutes.

Slice the pie into halves twice, then get your knife and fork ready; this pizza is really filling and hefty.  I always make the 2-slice bet; I’ve never seen anyone who could eat more than 2 slices, no matter how badly they wanted to eat more.  I win more bets that way!

Here are a few reasons I think you’ll really enjoy this pizza:

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